Hugh Grant (far left), Meryl Streep and Simon Helberg in Florence Foster Jenkins (Photo: Paramount)

★★★ (out of four)
DIRECTED BY Stephen Frears
STARS Meryl Streep, Hugh Grant

There’s no denying that Meryl Streep is one of the greatest actresses of our (all?) time, but there’s plenty of room to argue that her recent run hasn’t been as astounding as past laps of victory. Despite the knee-jerk awards attention for the likes of Into the Woods and The Iron Lady (and the less said about her slumming in the YA adaptation The Giver, the better), she hasn’t knocked one out of the multiplex since her superb turn in 2009’s Julie & Julia. With Florence Foster Jenkins, she returns in grand fashion, delivering a performance that’s alternately amusing, brave and, above all, poignant.

Yet she’s not the only one who excels in this based-on-fact yarn about the titular New York socialite, a woman who loved to sing even though her voice was about as pleasing as that of a cat who just had a brick dropped on its tail. As St. Clair Bayfield, Florence’s husband and the person who took it upon himself to guarantee that only friends and easy touches were allowed to hear her sing (professional critics were banned from her shows), Hugh Grant is equally marvelous. Meanwhile, The Big Bang Theory‘s Simon Helberg delivers a scene-stealing turn as Cosme McMoon, the talented pianist fearful that his collaborations with Florence might doom his burgeoning career.

Like Tim Burton’s Ed WoodFlorence Foster Jenkins offers a sympathetic portrayal of an individual whose creative and artistic zeal unfortunately outpaced any true talent. Although perhaps it was simply a matter of being born in the wrong era — after all, had she been a product of the 21st century, there’s no doubt she would have enjoyed a healthy run on the idiotic American Idol.

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